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United States of America v. Daniel Rodriguez

September 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is defendant Daniel Rodriguez's ("Rodriguez") motion to suppress evidence. (Doc. 21). Rodriguez asserts that Officer Arlon Schools ("Officer Schools") of the Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg ("PSU") campus police lacked jurisdiction to stop Rodriguez's vehicle on April 2, 2011. Rodriguez also contends that Officer Jeffrey LeVan ("Officer LeVan") of the Highspire Borough Police Department did not possess sufficient probable cause to search his vehicle. Rodriguez argues that any evidence found and seized from Mr. Rodriguez's person, vehicle, and property and any statements made by Mr. Rodriguez to law enforcement on and after April 2, 2011 must be suppressed. For the following reasons, the court will deny the motion.

I. Findings of Fact*fn1

On April 2, 2011, at approximately 5 a.m., Officer Schools*fn2 was returning to PSU's campus when he observed a 1998 Blue Kia Sephia sedan in the 600 block of Second Street in Highspire Borough. (Doc. 38, at 10). He observed the vehicle swerve into the center left turn lane without using a turn signal, swerve back into the right travel lane without using a turn signal, and then straddle the "fog line" on Second Street and Whitehouse Lane. (Id. at 11). Officer Schools communicated his observations over radio to Officer Jeffrey LeVan of the Highspire Borough Police Department. (Id. at 12; Doc. 28-1, at 21). At the time, Officer LeVan was parked at the intersection of Second Street and Broad Street in Highspire. (Doc. 38, at 69). Officer LeVan authorized Officer Schools to conduct a traffic stop. (Id. at 12). Officer Schools conducted the traffic stop at West Harrisburg Pike and the entrance to Jamesway Plaza, near Mead Road in Lower Swatara. (Id. at 12, 97). The stop took place approximately half a mile outside of the Highspire Borough and within 500 yards of the PSU campus. (Id. at 94-95, 98, Doc. 42).

Officer LeVan arrived approximately one to two minutes after the initial stop. (Doc. 38, at 12, 19, 37-38). Officer LeVan noted a "strong odor of burnt marijuana coming from inside the vehicle." (Id. at 39). Officer LeVan observed that the driver, later identified as Rodriguez, was slumped down in his seat and had "glassy" eyes. (Id.) Officer LeVan testified that Rodriguez was mumbling and slurring while speaking. (Id. at 40). When he attempted to retrieve his driver's license from his wallet, Rodriguez appeared to mistake a credit card for the driver's license and actually passed over his license several times. (Id. at 39). Rodriguez never provided Officer LeVan with the vehicle's registration. (Id.)

Eventually, Rodriguez exited the car and Officer LeVan conducted field coordination exercises to determine whether Rodriguez was under the influence of controlled substances. (Id. at 40-43). Rodriguez failed these exercises. (Id.). Indeed, Officer LeVan terminated one of the exercises out of concern that Rodriguez would fall and injure himself. (Id. at 42). Additionally, as Rodriguez exited the car, a dark colored cigarette lighter fell onto the street and Officer LeVan observed a clear plastic cigar "blunt" wrapper lying on the driver's side floor of the vehicle. (Id. at 40). Based upon all of these observations, Officer LeVan placed Rodriguez under arrest for driving under the influence of a controlled substance. (Id. at 44).

Officer LeVan impounded the car to a local towing service. (Id. at 44). Later that day, he obtained a search warrant for the vehicle. (Id. at 45). In his affidavit of probable cause, Officer LeVan stated that he asked Rodriguez, after providing Miranda warnings, if there was anything illegal in the car. Rodriguez responded with a "long drawn out no." (Doc. 28-1, at 22). Officer LeVan subsequently searched the vehicle and seized suspected marijuana, suspected cocaine, a loaded .40 caliber semiautomatic firearm, a digital scale, and $500 in U.S. currency. (Doc. 38, at 50-52).

II. Procedural History

On January 11, 2012, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Rodriguez charging him with: (1) possession with intent to distribute approximately 57 grams of cocaine, a Schedule II narcotic controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); and (2) possession of a firearm and ammunition during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). (Doc. 1). On January 23, 2012, Rodriguez entered a plea of not guilty. (Doc. 9). On March 6, 2012, Rodriguez filed the instant motion to suppress. (Doc. 21). The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion on June 13, 2012. (Doc. 38). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

III. Discussion

Rodriguez contends that both the initial stop and subsequent search of his vehicle were unlawful. He asserts that Officer Schools, as a campus police officer, lacked jurisdiction to perform the initial stop. He also asserts a lack of probable cause to issue a search warrant for his vehicle, and he contends that all evidence gained from the initial stop and subsequent search must be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree." Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488 (1963).

A. Jurisdiction for the Vehicle Stop

Rodriguez contends that Pennsylvania law limits Officer Schools' jurisdictional authority to the four corners of the PSU campus. The sole exception to this statutory limitation is an emergency situation coupled with a request by the mayor of a municipality or other executive authority. In his principal brief, Rodriguez cites 71 P.S. § 646 for this premise. Under this statute, the territorial jurisdiction of campus police was initially limited to campus property. Campus police officers could only provide extra-territorial assistance to municipalities in emergency situations, when requested by the mayor or other executive authority of the municipality, and only under the direction of local law enforcement authorities. However, in 1997, the Pennsylvania General Assembly repealed § 646 "insofar as it is inconsistent" with 71 P.S. § 646.1. Section 646.1 specifically addresses the jurisdiction of "campus police," which are defined as "all law enforcement personnel employed by a State-aided or State-related college or university who have successfully completed a campus police course of training" approved under the Municipal Police Education and Training Act, 53 Pa.C.S. Ch. 21 Subch. D (MPETA). Section 646.1(b). In relevant part, § 646.1(a) provides that such "campus police" now have the authority: (5) to exercise the same powers as are now or may hereafter be exercised under authority of law or ordinance by the police of the municipalities wherein the college or university is located, including, but not limited to, those powers conferred pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 89 Subch. D [the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (MPJA)]; (6) to prevent crime, investigate criminal acts, apprehend, arrest and charge criminal offenders and issue summary citations for acts committed on the grounds and in the buildings of the college or university . . . . Except when acting pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 89 Subch. D, campus police shall exercise these powers and perform these duties only on the grounds or within 500 yards of the grounds of the college or university. For the purposes of applying the provisions of 42 PA.C.S. Ch. 89 Subch. D, the grounds and within 500 yards of the grounds of the college or university shall constitute the primary jurisdiction of the campus police.

Thus, campus police now have primary jurisdiction over the grounds of the college or university and within 500 yards from those grounds.*fn3 Campus police are also authorized to enter into cooperative police service agreements with the police of the municipality in which the school is located. 71 ...

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